Twelve-year-old Mia Armstrong has a very full schedule as an actor, model, voiceover artist, Down syndrome activist, and middle school student. In these roles she has become a powerful advocate championing inclusion and fighting discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities and other differences. She now makes her debut as a picture book author with I Am a Masterpiece!, in which she relates what her life as someone with Down syndrome is like, and how readers can be more understanding and inclusive. We spoke with Armstrong about the inspiration for writing her book and sharing her experiences with a new audience.
Why did you want to write a book for children and what did you want the book to say to kids?
I wrote this story because I want to inspire people living with and without disabilities to love their own stories and be proud of who they are. Down syndrome does not define me. It is just one small part of who I am. I am an actress, model, voiceover artist, a rock climber, a thrill seeker, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. My dream for I Am a Masterpiece! is that the book will help kids everywhere recognize that people with Down syndrome are capable, strong, and unique. All people deserve to be loved and accepted for who they are.
What is your favorite thing about your book?
My favorite thing is that I am able to teach my classmates that a self-portrait doesn’t have to be only about what you look like on the outside. It can be about how you feel being you and how you see the world—a “double self-portrait.” I love that I can teach people things. My life has purpose just like yours does. Part of my purpose is to teach people to accept and love themselves as they are.
What was it like to work with your ghostwriter, author Marissa Moss? Did you get to spend time with her?
I loved working with Marissa Moss and she got a real kick out of working with me and getting to know the “real me.” Marissa has written more than 70 children’s books. I knew that she would get my story right and tell it in a fun way that kids can relate to.
Before the book was written, Marissa and I spent many hours talking, painting, eating, and playing together. At first when I heard the word “ghostwriter” I thought I would be meeting a real ghost. It turns out that Marissa is not a ghost, she is a wonderful person. I am proud to have had the chance to partner with her to tell my story. Marissa, if you are reading this, I love you.
Can you talk about what it’s like to have Down syndrome? What would you like people to know?
I often say that Down syndrome isn’t a disability, it’s a “different ability.” People think of it as a bad thing, but I think of it as a beautiful thing. Some things are difficult for me, but loving with my whole heart is easy and I’m proud of who I am.
Do you have advice for what people should or shouldn’t do when they see a person with Down syndrome?
Don’t point, don’t whisper, don’t stare. Do say “hello.” I’m more like you than you might think.
What is it like to balance school and your career?
I have a busy life like most kids my age. Sometimes I miss school to film commercials, TV shows, movies, or voiceover roles. I love school and acting for the same reason: I am a people person and spending time with fun and interesting people is what I love the most.
What are some of the other projects that you are working on in your career as an actor and voiceover artist?
This year I completed my first feature film. I had a lead role in a Christmas movie called A Christmas in New Hope. I had the privilege of working with incredible actors and being directed by Julia Barnett. I lived in Texas for a month. I played a character named Charlie, living with Down syndrome and being raised by a single mom. This role helped me grow as an actress and I learned so much. I like acting because I’ve always loved pretending and role playing. Being an actress has helped me in many ways. I have had to memorize lines, be flexible and take direction. My favorite part of acting is making new friends.
Do you plan or hope to write more books?
I would love the opportunity to write more books. I am in middle school now so I would love the chance to write a middle grade graphic novel. I am an artist and a visual learner, so I think this is a great format. I turn 13 this year so I would love to take that on.
I Am a Masterpiece! by Mia Armstrong, illus. by Alexandra Thompson. Random House, $19.99 Jan. 9 ISBN 978-0-593-56797-5